Environment Not a Pressing Concern

by Lydia Saad

Democrats much more exercised than Republicans

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Typical Earth Day activities -- festivals, nature hikes, environmental symposiums, and other events designed to attract public interest in the environment -- are going on as usual this week in celebration of the 34th anniversary of the first Earth Day. The question is, how many Americans beyond a core group of environmentalist-minded activists are paying attention?

Gallup's annual Environment/Earth Day poll, conducted March 8-11, finds Americans fairly critical of the quality of the nation's environment today. By a 57% to 43% margin, more Americans rate current environmental conditions as "only fair" or "poor" than say they are "excellent" or "good." This assessment is slightly more negative than those of two and three years ago.

Americans’ Ratings of
Current Environmental Conditions

Similarly, by a 58% to 34% margin, more Americans believe the environment is getting worse rather than better. This evaluation has remained fairly steady in recent years.

Perceived Trend in Environmental Conditions

But despite these negative views of environmental conditions, Gallup finds Americans less concerned about the environment today than they are about several other issues on the national agenda -- particularly healthcare, but also crime, drug use, terrorism, and the economy. Barely one-third (35%) worry a great deal about the quality of the environment, while 62% worry either a great deal or a fair amount. This puts the environment on par with energy, hunger and homelessness, and unemployment.

 

Public Concern About Nation's Problems

Percentage worried "a great deal"

Percentage worried "a great deal" or "fair amount"

%

%

The availability and affordability of healthcare

62

80

Crime and violence

46

72

Drug use

46

65

The possibility of future terrorist attacks in the U.S.

42

70

The economy

41

70

Illegal immigration

37

59

Unemployment

36

61

Hunger and homelessness

35

64

The availability and affordability of energy

35

63

The quality of the environment

35

62

Race relations

19

42



Furthermore, Americans are less worried today about the environment than they have been in the past. The 62% of Americans who worry a great deal or fair amount about environmental quality today is down from 68% last year, and from 77% in 2001.

Degree to Which Americans Worry
About the Quality of the Environment

One of the most striking findings in the Environment/Earth Day poll comes from a question that asks Americans whether environmental protection or economic growth should be given priority when the two interests conflict. Since first asked in 1984, this has been a key Gallup indicator of public sympathy toward the environmental movement. But compared to previous years, in each of the past two years a record low proportion of Americans have chosen environmental protection. Today, just 49% say protection of the environment should be given priority, while nearly as many (44%) say economic growth should take priority.

Two years ago, the margin in favor of the environment on this question was much stronger: 54% to 36%. But even that was low by historical standards. For most of the 1990s, the public sided with the environment over the economy by a more than 2-to-1 margin.

Which Should Take Precedence:
Environmental Protection or Economic Growth?

To some degree, this shift away from environmental protection may reflect the tough economic situation facing the country in the past few years. Support for environmental protection peaked at 70% in January 2000, at the same time the economy was booming, then gradually declined to 47% by 2003. It remains at roughly that level today.

Little Top-of-Mind Concern

A different test of the salience of the environment to Americans comes from an open-ended question asking, "What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?" Historically, the environment has rarely been mentioned by more than 5% of the public on this measure; more often, the figure has been in the 1% to 2% range. This is the case today, as just 2% name the environment. Rather than the environment, the economy and issues related to terrorism and the Iraq situation lead the list of issues Americans see as most pressing.

What has changed is that Americans are now less likely to see the environment as a long-term problem. In 2000, the environment ranked as the top problem for the future, mentioned by 14% of Americans. Today it ranks third (with 8% of mentions) behind the economy and Social Security.

"Looking ahead, what do you think will be the most important problem facing our nation 25 years from now?"

 

Mar 2004

Mar 2003

Mar 2002

Mar 2001

Apr 2000

2004 Rank

%

%

%

%

%

1

The economy

12

14

12

5

3

2

Social Security/Medicare

11

6

6

8

4

3

The environment

8

9

10

11

14



A Political Issue

A key feature of environmental attitudes is that they are highly partisan. Republicans are inclined to paint a rosy picture of the quality of environmental conditions today, and perhaps as a result, indicate little worry about the issue. Democrats are much more likely to take a negative view of environmental conditions, and close to half worry a great deal about the issue.

Environmental Attitudes by Party ID
March 8-11, 2004

Despite the youthful image sometimes associated with the environmental movement, young adults are not particularly critical of environmental conditions compared with older adults. More than 4 in 10 18- to 29-year-olds (42%) consider environmental quality to be excellent or good. This compares with 43% of 30- to 49-year-olds, 46% of 50- to 64-year-olds, and 39% of those 65 and older.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,005 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 8-11, 2004. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

11. Next I'm going to read a list of problems facing the country. For each one, please tell me if you personally worry about this problem a great deal, a fair amount, only a little, or not at all? First, how much do you personally worry about -- [RANDOM ORDER]?

A. Hunger and homelessness

 

Great
deal

Fair
amount

Only a
little

Not
at all

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2004 Mar 8-11

35

29

28

8

--

2003 Mar 24-25

37

33

22

8

--

2002 Mar 4-7

37

30

26

7

*

2001 Mar 5-7

45

34

16

5

*



B. Crime and violence

 

Great
deal

Fair
amount

Only a
little

Not
at all

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2004 Mar 8-11

46

26

24

4

*

2003 Mar 24-25

45

31

18

5

1

2002 Mar 4-7

49

27

20

4

0

2001 Mar 5-7

62

26

9

3

*



C. The quality of the environment

 

Great
deal

Fair
amount

Only a
little

Not
at all

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2004 Mar 8-11

35

27

31

7

*

2003 Mar 24-25

34

34

21

10

1

2002 Mar 4-7

35

31

27

6

1

2001 Mar 5-7

42

35

17

5

1



D. The availability and affordability of health care

 

Great
deal

Fair
amount

Only a
little

Not
at all

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2004 Mar 8-11

62

18

13

7

*

2003 Mar 24-25

55

24

12

8

1

2002 Mar 4-7

56

23

14

7

*

2001 Mar 5-7

60

24

11

5

*



E. Drug use

 

Great
deal

Fair
amount

Only a
little

Not
at all

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2004 Mar 8-11

46

19

20

14

1

2003 Mar 24-25

42

26

20

12

*

2002 Mar 4-7

49

22

19

9

1

2001 Mar 5-7

58

22

13

7

*



F. Race relations

 

Great
deal

Fair
amount

Only a
little

Not
at all

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2004 Mar 8-11

19

23

34

23

1

2003 Mar 24-25

22

31

26

21

*

2002 Mar 4-7

23

25

30

21

1

2001 Mar 5-7

28

34

23

15

*



G. Illegal immigration

 

Great
deal

Fair
amount

Only a
little

Not
at all

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2004 Mar 8-11

37

22

25

15

1

2003 Mar 24-25

37

26

23

13

1

2002 Mar 4-7

33

25

26

16

*

2001 Mar 5-7

28

24

29

18

1



H. The availability and affordability of energy

 

Great
deal

Fair
amount

Only a
little

Not
at all

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2004 Mar 8-11

35

28

25

11

1

2003 Mar 24-25

27

36

25

11

1

2002 Mar 4-7

32

30

29

9

*

2001 Mar 5-7

46

31

16

6

1



I. The economy

 

Great
deal

Fair
amount

Only a
little

Not
at all

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2004 Mar 8-11

41

29

24

6

*

2003 Mar 24-25

44

35

15

6

*

2002 Mar 4-7

37

36

21

6

*

2001 Mar 5-7

35

42

19

4

*



J. Unemployment

 

Great
deal

Fair
amount

Only a
little

Not
at all

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2004 Mar 8-11

36

25

29

10

*

2003 Mar 24-25

36

29

22

13

*

2002 Mar 4-7

33

30

25

12

*

2001 Mar 5-7

30

33

24

13

*



 

K. The possibility of future terrorist attacks in the U.S.

 

Great
deal

Fair
amount

Only a
little

Not
at all

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2004 Mar 8-11

42

28

22

8

*

2003 Mar 24-25

49

30

16

5

*

2002 Mar 4-7

49

26

20

5

*

* Less than 0.5%



SUMMARY TABLE: CONCERN ABOUT NATIONAL ISSUES

 


2004 Mar 8-11
(sorted by "great deal")


Great
deal


Fair
amount

Only a
little/
Not at all

%

%

%

The availability and affordability of health care

62

18

20

Crime and violence

46

26

28

Drug use

46

19

34

The possibility of future terrorist attacks in the U.S.

42

28

30

The economy

41

29

30

Illegal immigration

37

22

40

Unemployment

36

25

39

Hunger and homelessness

35

29

36

The availability and affordability of energy

35

28

36

The quality of the environment

35

27

38

Race relations

19

23

57



15. How would you rate the overall quality of the environment in this country today -- as excellent, good, only fair, or poor?

 

 

Excellent

Good

Only fair

Poor

No opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2004 Mar 8-11

4

39

46

11

*

2003 Mar 3-5

5

36

48

10

1

2002 Mar 4-7

4

43

45

7

1

2001 Mar 5-7

5

41

47

6

1

* Less than 0.5%



 

 

Excellent/Good

Only fair/Poor

%

%

2004 Mar 8-11

43

57

2003 Mar 3-5

41

58

2002 Mar 4-7

47

52

2001 Mar 5-7

46

53



 

16. Right now, do you think the quality of the environment in the country as a whole is getting better or getting worse?

 

 

Getting better

Getting worse

SAME (vol.)

No opinion

%

%

%

%

2004 Mar 8-11

34

58

6

2

2003 Mar 3-5

33

57

8

2

2002 Mar 4-7

40

54

4

2

2001 Mar 5-7

36

57

5

2

(vol.) Volunteered response



ENVIRONMENTAL OUTLOOK GROUPS (COMBINED RESPONSES: Qs. 15-16)

 

Positive

Mixed

Negative

Undesignated

%

%

%

%

2004 Mar 8-11

26

26

46

2

2003 Mar 3-5

27

23

47

3

2002 Mar 4-7

29

31

38

2

2001 Mar 5-7

24

34

39

3



18. With which one of these statements about the environment and the economy do you most agree -- [ROTATED: protection of the environment should be given priority, even at the risk of curbing economic growth (or) economic growth should be given priority, even if the environment suffers to some extent]?

 


Environment

Economic growth

EQUAL PRIORITY (vol.)

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2004 Mar 8-11

49

44

4

3

2003 Mar 3-5

47

42

7

4

2002 Mar 4-7

54

36

5

5

2001 Mar 5-7

57

33

6

4

2000 Apr 3-9

67

28

2

3

2000 Jan 13-16

70

23

--

7

1999 Apr 13-14

67

28

--

5

1999 Mar 12-14

65

30

--

5

1998 Apr 17-19

68

24

--

8

1997 Jul 25-27

66

27

--

7

1995 Apr 17-19

62

32

--

6

1992 Jan 5-Mar 31

58

26

8

8

1991 Apr

71

20

--

9

1990 Apr

71

19

--

10

1984 Sep

61

28

--

11

(vol.) Volunteered response



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